Residential Kitchens can be Functional

January 25th, 2010 § 5 Comments

There was a commentary from an author at another blog, Dog Walk Blog, citing that home kitchens are not functional; looking more like living rooms with furniture than places to prepare food. I am not certain if the author, Charlie, is (a) just being cheeky, (b) disagreeable in general, (c) was not part of the process when his kitchen was built, or (d) just irritated that it was his turn to cook breakfast. I’ll assume (d). While I am in agreement with his opinion of HGTV’s over saturation of also ran “me too” shows showing kitchen after kitchen topped with granite counters, I beg to disagree with his commentary that residential kitchens of today are not functional.  In fact, a properly designed kitchen, large or small, can be a super efficient hub of the home that would make even the most reticent morning person jump for joy at the prospect of making breakfast. It is all in the planning. In any event, I will respond to his critique on the functionality of residential kitchen design here in my blog.

There are volumes of books that discuss the history of the kitchen and it’s relevance to domestic life, so I will not digress into that here. To the left and below are historical pictures from the great food blog, Gherkins & Tomatoes, a wonderful blog that covers topics on Cooks & Cooking throughout history. Suffice it to say that in America, kitchens have come full circle from the primitive all purpose “great room” where all family activities took place; and as Americans gained wealth, kitchens were relegated to the back of the house, closed off from the parlor where the family gathered, lived and entertained; up to today’s standards where the kitchen has returned to it’s roots as a “great room” where the family gathers, lives and entertains within the kitchen space and where cabinetry blends into the architecture of the home.

Kitchens have evolved as the new living room, but this does not make them any less functional because of the decorative cabinetry.  Looking back at the history of the kitchen, it’s easy to see where the trend of kitchens looking more like living rooms started. Creating more comfortable spaces, innovating with useful tools to make kitchen chores easier is the one constant theme throughout our kitchen history.

Soho Loft designed by Paul Gleicher 

So let’s examine the points in Charlies argument on why he believes today’s kitchens are focused more on the “pretty” and not focused on the “functional”:

Stainless Steel Counter tops Versus Granite Counter Tops: 

By all accounts stainless steel is a popular material in both residential and commercial kitchens. Hygienic and durable, no one can refute that stainless steel is the practical material of choice for sinks, appliances, ventilation, back splashes and counter surfaces. Gleaming bright and ultra modern, stainless steel counters can be a bold choice but also can be cold and noisy if used as the sole counter surface. I think most people would agree that counter surfaces are personal choices, an area to infuse their own personality into their kitchen. Restaurant kitchens with stainless steel surfaces are noisy because the sound bounces off of all the hard surfaces. Photo on the left French Laundry by Dave Anderson. If you look at counters in this restaurant kitchen on the left and in the video included further down, we can see that even the highly acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in Northern California has a work around solution for stainless counters, covering up most all the stainless steel prep surfaces with gleaming white plastic cutting boards at the line and white butcher paper at the plating area. The use of the plastic cutting boards are practical and butcher paper prevents plates from shifting while plating on the pass and cuts down the noise of plates on the stainless. I would also guess that the butcher paper also prevents the plates from cooling slightly less than if the plates were placed directly on the stainless surface. Would most homeowners be willing to do the same in a residential setting? I think not.


Open shelves that predominate in a commercial kitchen can be a drawback in a residential kitchen. While commercial kitchens are typically equipped with heavy duty stainless steel work surfaces with open shelves below and open shelves above, commercial kitchens also employ a staff to keep these surfaces gleaming bright by scrubbing them down daily from top to bottom.  While a few open shelves at home require a moderate amount of maintenance to keep the dust and grease at bay, in today’s busy lifestyle, who has the time to maintain all open shelves in a kitchen? Especially near the cooking area. If you have ever run your hand across your vent hood that you missed wiping down in the last week or more, I dare you to test it out and run your hand across the hood, feel the greasy dust on your hand and imagine a layer of that same grease on all your pots, dinner ware and glasses stored on open shelves.

Frankly, having open access to all shelves, upper and lower exposed, can look unsightly and cluttered in a residential kitchen. No one is that organized at home unless you are Martha-what’s-her-name. Commercial kitchens maintain a lot of uniformity on the shelves, all white plates, all the same type of cookware, all the same type of utensils. Not so in our kitchens. We “inherit” cookware, have multiple types of dinnerware, mugs, glassware,  plastic ware, way too many slogan mugs from business partners and travel mugs and most of us want it covered up from view. Planning and plating by pulling your plate, prep bowls and serve ware out of a cabinet before you make the omelet is key in not getting aggravated in your kitchen. Installing roll out trays in base cabinets, editing out what you don’t need in cabinets or do not use anymore will increase the function of your kitchen.

Interior cabinet lighting: Never search for that missing lid or favorite spice again with interior cabinet lighting.  Each time you open a door or cabinet drawer, light automatically illuminates the space so you can quickly find what you need. Picture on the left shows lighting switch from Richelieu. 

Electric Stoves:  Oh yes you can regulate heat with induction cooking, powered by electricity of course. Get ready for those perfect pancakes Charlie.

There will always be those who favor gas cooking, but induction cooking, which has been around for several years, should not be overlooked.   The following information and more can be researched at The Induction Site, the following is an excerpt. 

Here’s why:
1. Instant adjustment. You can adjust the cooking heat instantly and with great precision.  This is what sets it apart from the typical electric coil which slowly starts to increase or decrease when adjusted.
2. No wasted heat.
With induction cooking, energy is supplied directly to the cooking vessel by the magnetic field; thus, almost all of the source energy gets transferred to that vessel. With gas or conventional electric cookers (including halogen), the energy is first converted to heat and only then directed to the cooking vessel–with a lot of that heat going to waste heating up your kitchen (and you) instead of heating up your food. (The striking image at the left shows how precisely focused heat generation is with induction–ice remains unmelted on an induction element that is boiling water!) As a comparison, 40%–less than half–of the energy in gas gets used to cook, whereas with induction 84% percent of the energy in the electricity used gets used to cook (and the rest is not waste heat as it is with gas). There are two important heat-related consequences of that fact:

3. Cooler kitchens:
Of course the cooking vessel and the food itself will radiate some of their heat into the cooking area–but compared to gas or other forms of electrically powered cooking, induction makes for a much cooler kitchen (recall the old saying: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”); and

4. A cool stove top:

That’s right! The stovetop itself barely gets warm except directly under the cooking vessel (and that only from such heat as the cooking vessel bottom transfers). No more burned fingers, no more baked-on spills, no more danger with children around. (The photo at the left–more can be referenced at the Induction Site–shows, like the one shown here, how only the cooking vessel does the actual cooking.)

Ovens that make you bend down: 

I can’t argue with this. Unless you have lots of help in the kitchen as show in this photo on the left, from another new favorite blog, (Taste with the Eyes),  placing an oven in a tall cabinet that makes it easy to reach and pull out hot food is ergonomically the best way to go. For others with very small kitchens, the sacrifice of eliminating a counter surface is not worth the trade off. For aging in place design, including a wall oven should be considered as a space planning priority. There are ovens with double doors that swing out but they tend to be on the pricey side. Again, another trade off that has to be weighed against the over all budget.

Pots & pans
Pots and pans should be accessible in roll out trays or drawers. I prefer drawers so that everything is within view with a single pull of the drawer. Hanging Pots and Pans above from a pot rack  means one of three things: (a) you can afford hired help to keep them all your pots and pans sparkling clean, (b) You ignore the dust and cob webs and only clean them before the holidays, (c) you don’t cook and your pots and pans are hung from a pot rack just for show. Enough said.

Utensils and Knife Storage: definitely agree with Charlie on this point. Utensil storage should be visible and within arms reach in your cooking and prep area. Maintaining cleanliness for utensils kept out in the open is an easier task than maintaining dinnerware and pots and pans on an open shelf.  One of my favorite lines is RÖSLE.   The Open Kitchen is a genuine RÖSLE concept, lifting beautifully designed professional kitchen utensils from invisibility in back drawers and setting them out for both show and utility. The expandable system incorporates adaptable modules offering infinite possibilities for modifying and enhancing the work ambient as convenient.

Your point is well taken. In the best of all worlds, it would be a bonus if all residential kitchens were big enough like it’s commercial counterparts to house both a sink in the clean up zone for washing dishes and another sink to prep our food and wash our veggies. This is a matter of budget, remodeling logistics and size permitting.

I think there is no better time in kitchen design, where kitchens can be stylish and very functional. Any chef will tell you that the last thing they want to see after a long day in the kitchen is a utilitarian commercial kitchen at home. Everybody wants to warm it up and personalize it when it comes to their own kitchen.  

In summary I think the Rolling Stones summed it up best and you can use this logic in kitchen design too:

You can’t always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need,
Oh yeah, hey hey hey, oh…

Dog Walk Blog
How to get a Table at the French Laundry
Taste With the Eyes Blog
The Induction Site
Rolling Stones Song Lyrics

Kitchens should be fun! It’s so easy, dance if you want to.

November 1st, 2009 § Leave a Comment

The quest for the most efficiently built cabinets never ends. Here is a Merillat ad from the sixties, (maybe someone from Merillat can confirm the year of this ad for us),  that shows modern convenience back then, to the new video from Blum showing us the latest technology and convenience today.

Ok, so a little more news on base cabinets today. Yesterday we looked at corners in action, today we are going to look at a real cute guy in action. (Grin). This video deserves a post all on it’s own. A man who dances and cooks. I LOVE THIS! Servo drive has been around for a few years, but this video was just created in May ’09. Think of the uses, even if you limit the Servo drive to just one of your hardest working drawers, imagine the convenience! With a tap from a knee or a push from the hip, no more water drips on the cabinets near the sink. No more chicken hands on your drawers or cabinet pulls.

The product is showing the new Blum Servo Drive for drawers. Drawers open automatically using an electrical drive.   Sorry, cute guy not included.

If you are having trouble viewing the U Tube Video, click here:

The Future of Corner Cabinets in the Kitchen Is Here Now!

October 31st, 2009 § 4 Comments

Once upon a time being sent to the corner as a kid was a bad, bad thing. It was considered punishment in school. Even worse, (or so I’ve heard), if you had a real tough school marm, you were further humiliated by wearing a dunce cap.

In remodeling a kitchen, reaching into a blind corner cabinet is the equivalent of being punished. No one wants to stoop down, on bended knees, crawling and reaching forward in a contorted yoga move forcing you to breath while grasping for that unreachable bowl in the caverns of the dark corner.

Corners have come a long way in kitchen design. Check out these space saving options in corner cabinets found around the web.

Going to the corner has never been so much fun. Watch and see! 

Saturday musings: Paring down with Wabi Sabi.

August 22nd, 2009 § Leave a Comment

Photos of simple, unadorned rooms I admire.

Photos from Apartment Therapy via Sköna Hem and Emmas Design Blogg: Unlike shabby chic, wabi-sabi decor inspires minimalism that focuses more on the people who live in the space than anything else.

The aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” (according to Leonard Koren in his book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers).

The concept of finding beauty in “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” may be more true in today’s economy than ever before. Look for beauty in found objects, your grandmother’s antique hutch, a hotel letter box.

Dyson and Qinetiq: Game On. Inventors battle it out in the kitchen.

May 5th, 2009 § 1 Comment

News from the Sunday, May 3, 2009 reveals that Sir James Dyson, the inventor, who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner with a dual cyclone bagless vacuum, has filed new British and American patents for new kitchen design inventions. According to the Times article, Dyson and Qinetiq, the research company spin-off from the Ministry of Defense, are competing to provide the kitchen of tomorrow.

Dyson has patent protected inventions including appliances in tall, rectangular shapes that fit together on a platform, replacing the pointed spouts, long cables and sharp corners of blenders, juicers and kettles.

This weekend, cleaning out my refrigerator, I was thinking of replacing all my round plastic ware with square shaped clear storage containers. Square shapes take up less space than round food savers. It is always a battle to keep a fully stocked refrigerator organized, with food viewable from clear containers and accessable. Can’t wait to see what Sir James has in mind for the kitchen of the future.

Meanwhile, the article further states that scientists at Qinetiq, (pronounced kinetic), are developing flexible crockery that can be bent into a plate, bowl or cup. It uses “shape memory alloys” developed for the military.

Now if they could just come up with plastic food savers that do not stain or lose thier shape once washed in a dishwasher. Ah, nothing beats glass, but glass is not so practical when packing a lunch to go. Qinetiq and Sir James Dyson, are you up for the challenge?

What say you? What would you like to see improved in kitchen design? The inventors are listening.

Dish towels and sponges

February 3rd, 2008 § 1 Comment

One day apart a reader and a client asked where is the best place to keep the dishtowel and dish sponge. Alrighty then, here is my opportunity to sound off about the topic.

Dish towels and sponges must be absolutely clean each time one is used. Because the average sponge can host 7 billion bacteria, (namely E. coli or Staphylococus aureus), you could be doing more harm than good during a counter wipe down.

Follow the advice of cleaning experts and keep your sponges as sanitary and effective as possible.

Get in the habit of disinfecting your cellulose sponge or dish cloth. An article from, “How to Keep Sponges Germ-Free: Sponge basics and tips for microbe-management”.
gives advice on this subject. “A damp, dirty sponge encourages bacteria growth. But it’s not enough to squeeze out the dishwater, says Richard Sparacio, cofounder of MaidPro, a nationwide housecleaning service. Once the soapy water has been released, rinse the sponge under hot water. Then press out the water (wringing will damage the fibers) and place the sponge on a rack, not under the sink. Allow it to dry fully before the next use.

A great tip, simply zap the sponge in the microwave for two minutes on high or run it through the dishwasher. Kim and Aggie, from the British TV series, “How Clean Is Your House?” recommended using a clean dish cloth soaked in hot, soapy water with a dash of bleach to keep them clean and bacteria free.

Where do I store my Dish Sponge?
The best thing for sponges, available in plastic or chrome with suction cups allows the sponge to have a home right in the sink bowl. Tuck it away from view by attaching it at the front of the bowl (nearest you). The sponge can drip dry in the sink and no one will be the wiser that it’s there. The sponge should have a chance to dry between use to keep it clean and bacteria free. I toss my sponge at least once a week even though the recommendation is at least once a month. I detest sink tilt out trays because it is a dark dank place for microbes to incubate on your sponge. Don’t neglect the suction cups. Keep them clean by scrubbing them with hot water and dish washing liquid, or pop it in the dishwasher once a week.

At Bed Bath and Beyond, my favorite is a little $6.99 item with suction cups. Here is the link:

Since we are talking about sink organization, my favorite is from William Sonoma. I like their containers in these chrome containers. Very attractive. Although they need to make one for the dish washing liquid which sadly doesn’t fit in this grouping.

This is very handy for scrubbers for a mere $12.00 but look how ironic? the picture shows the wet soapy sponge is homeless. Stick the suction cup sponge holder in the sink and you are all set!

At the container store: I found something interesting.
If you use both a dish cloth and a scrubbie sponge this is great for letting them dry out between use.

I had this one and chucked it afterwards. It gets goopy inside. Good looks at first, but not really. It says it is rustproof. Not!

This combo is not practical. Unless you are very, very careful about keeping this bone dry, water collects in the sponge cup creating a perfect opportunity for the sponge to collect millions of bacteria. I do not recommend this.

Where do I store my dishtowel?

I hang my working dishtowels on a tiered rack on the inside of my pantry door. They air dry and are out of site to keep my kitchen looking tidy. I use a clean dish towel everyday. One client even refuses to hang her towel. Tossing it in the laundry bag after every use she grabs for a fresh dish towel at every cooking session. And do not rehang a dirty towel, toss in the laundry bag and grab a fresh one. I recommend keeping freshly laundered dishtowels stay ready for work in a drawer near the sink. Use the tiered rack for keeping dishtowels and dish cloths out of site yet handy for work. This one is from Rev-A-Shelf # 563.

The worst place to keep a dishtowel is hanging off the range handle, the dishwasher handle or refrigerator handle. It is sloppy and unsightly. Buy a stack of dishcloths and dishtowels and change them often.

Before and after. Without the towels looks better.
This client keeps her sink tidy by keeping her tiered towel rack behind the sink door.
Cautionary note: do not hang wet dish rags near the door. The moisture and dark space is bad combination for bacteria growth and also moisture will ruin your cabinets. Lay your dish rag flat at the sink to air dry. Fold and hang dry towels in this space.

An alternate method for storing the dish towel, not wet dish cloths.
It is is more expensive and is planned with the design of the kitchen cabinet order.
The problem may be using 9″ or 12″ of valuable base cabinet real estate may make the “towel bar” cabinet impractical in a small kitchen.

An apron sink with the dish towel folded neatly over the sink is an alternate method.
Not recommended on sink bases with a standard wood or painted false front.
The moisture from the towel will ruin the stained or painted cabinet fronts.

This Rev-A-Shelf Base organizer with a stainless steel panel is a favorite of mine. These rubber coated hooks come in various configurations and are great for storage.
I would suggest the dish towel can be hung from a hook inside this stainless steel panel as well as extra paper towels, dish detergent, extra liquid soap, extra scrubbies.

Rev-A-Shelf makes this product in 3 sizes. 3″, 6″ and 12″. I love this!

Remodeling the Ranch Style Home

January 20th, 2008 § 3 Comments

The challenge of a Ranch Style kitchen.

The challenge for many who are ready to update the ranch: keep budgetary costs down with minimal structural and mechanical changes while improving the layout of the kitchen. Here are some ideas from my own collection of jobs and from around the net that show small space Ranch Kitchens with maximum impact.
Newspaper ad from 1962.
A new ranch style home for sale

In California, ranch home subdivisions exploded like wild poppies all over the state in the 1960′s and 70′s. Some better than others. Big lots, huge backyards, massive windows and sliding glass doors welcomed indoor/outdoor living, vaulted ceilings, 2 car attached garages, walk-in closets, spacious formal dining room, living room and den to boot.

The Klawitter Home in Long Beach, CA. An example of the best part of California Ranch House style: The indoor/outdoor living.

Ironically, the kitchens in these big, beautiful ranch homes usually shared the same impossible U-shaped footprint or narrow galley kitchens. Peninsulas with blind storage corners, massive sink base cabinets centered over a pass-thru kitchen window intended for ease of entertaining and serving to the patio. Before: Clerestory windows. Vaulted Ceilings. Views of the backyard make for a good beginning.
Goal for the new kitchen: Improve the layout, add counter space.

After: continue the clerestory windows into the kitchen allows the light to flood the kitchen.

Before: Three entries into the kitchen makes for an awkward layout with small counter space, small pantry and limited space for appliances and storage.

After: Third doorway closed off allows for bigger range and powerful vent hood, microwave and warming drawer allows the cook more flexibility for cooking large meals and entertaining. More counter space, open airy space with new half wall into dining room.

Before: Soffit over the sink area and wall cabinets close off the
kitchen and make it look smaller.

After: Soffits gone, glass front and sides of wall cabinets allow light
to bounce off reflective surfaces.

Before: Awkward and incomplete.

After: Additional counter space and an easy place for guests to relax with you in the kitchen.

Customized storage makes cooking easy.

The storage in this kitchen was doubled with customized features.

Accessible and Durable Storage: Lighted corner cabinets. Heavy duty hinges.

An 1965 newspaper ad. The Valley News, San Fernando Valley, CA .

A 1970′s Raised Ranch with it’s original kitchen layout.

Cabinets with impossible storage corners.
The peninsula and large spans of windows prevents needed wall cabinet storage.

During the remodel: the peninsula with the blind corner banished allows for the sink wall to be outfitted with a giant lazy susan corner and a trash base to the left of the sink. The new position of the dishwasher is given a proper home to the right of the sink, followed with drawers to the right for cutlery.

The cook top location remains at the same location but gets a boost of cooking power with an under cabinet oven. The old kitchens with the typical 70′s dropped fluorescent oak trimmed light fixture.

The new hood becomes the focal point.

No space for a double oven?
If it’s been a while since you shopped for a range,
the new double oven range offers unequaled versatility in one convenient package.
Introducing GE’s hottest new innovation in cooking convenience! This new GE Profile™ double oven range allows you to cook two different dishes at two different temperatures at the same time.

The stunning kitchens below are from
Here, a U shape Kitchen with functional storage in every usable inch!

This mahogony stained kitchen is fabulous.

Small u shaped kitchens are no place for tall oven cabinets. This under cabinet oven makes way for spacious counter tops. Lou Ann Bauer and her staff at Bauer Interior Design was recognized by Interior Design Magazine as one of the nation’s top Kitchen & Bath design firms. For more inspiring views visit

The Best of Ranch Style

Rancho Style: Modernism Meets the Ranch House.
I am a huge fan of the Cliff May homes. They were certainly inspired by the Western ranch house, but they are unique in their modern interpretation of this California design. The Long Beach Cliff May’s were built in the early 1950s and reflect the modernist influences of the time with open floor plans, exposed post-and-beam ceilings, clerestory windows and floor to ceiling glass.

Floorplan Design and Placement
Many Cliff May designs are L- or U-shaped and are positioned to the back of their lots, a design layout which he envisioned would provide for more open outdoor space and an enhanced relationship between the homes’ interior and yard.

Appreciation for Design
As more people become interested in design—whether it‘s a toaster or an automobile—more are wanting their homes to reflect what they value. These individuals tend to share a common aesthetic and appreciation for form and function. They are, in large part, the new breed of owners who are shaping the future of neighborhoods such as the Ranchos. And somewhere in the great beyond, Cliff May is undoubtedly cheering them on.

For more information, please visit:

The Eichler Home: Distinctively different from the Ranch Home, the Eichler shares the same beauty of indoor/outdoor living with Atrium courtyards. A midcentury modern home built by developer Joseph Eichler and his Eichler Homes, Inc. built nearly 11,000 single-family homes in California, beginning in the late 1940s. In Northern California, they can be found in areas in and around Marin county, the East Bay, San Mateo county, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento. Three small communities of Eichlers in Southern California stand in Orange, Thousand Oaks, and Granada Hills. In addition, there are three Eichler-built residences in New York state. Together these thousands of “Eichlers” reflect the beauty and uniqueness of the Eichler design and the integrity and daring of the builder behind it. Fifty years later, the house that Joe built endures as a marvelous legacy.

12 Tips to Simplify Kitchen Life

January 5th, 2008 § 5 Comments

I love January. After the winter celebrations are over with, life slows down a little. It’s too cold or wet outside to garden. Nights still get dark too early to enjoy the evenings outdoors. It is a wonderful month for quiet time. January is the customary month for setting new goals. How wonderful to be cozy and warm and plan ahead. Indoors it is a great time to declutter from the stuff that keeps us weighed down from change.

There is a fun little article to read at Care2: 12 Tips to Simplify Kitchen Life.
Before remodeling your kitchen, a good idea is to take stock of how much you have in the kitchen. Do you complain of not having enough counter, cupboard or drawer space? Get rid of duplicates. Hoarding leaves one with two sided guilt: guilt for being wasteful and guilt for not letting go. Ask yourself this question, is it outmoded? Is it no longer used? Give them away to charity or someone else who can use them. Clear, clean, and restage the way you use your kitchen. Make way for a New Year, maybe this is the year for a new kitchen.

Feng Shui Your Kitchen

November 14th, 2007 § Leave a Comment

Here is an interesting topic over at Green Living, Feng Shui Your Kitchen. Do you need a quick fix to avoid stagnant chi (life energy)? Want to feel healthier and attract more abundance in your life? Many of the ideas behind Feng Shui are really based on common sense. Try some of the ideas out and see if it doesn’t improve your outlook for your kitchen.

I like the fresh potted flowers/plants idea. It puts me in a good mood to start my day looking at my cheery potted plants of rosemary and pomegranate. The idea of mirror behind the cook top doesn’t sit well with me. Too much maintenance to make it always look sparkling fresh. I prefer the shiny teakettle instead.

What’s in your junk drawer?

April 7th, 2007 § Leave a Comment

Here is a fun link to Chow.
I swore when I moved, I would not have a junk drawer ever again. Alas, I needed a place for the miscellaneous stuff that gets shoved in there such as coupons, dead bolts, unoccupied key rings I can’t throw away.

What’s in your junk drawer?
For those of you suffering from “junkdraweritus”, please visit “Organizing A Junk Drawer”.

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